We Need Sunshine in Summerland!

By Pam Scott   |   January 18, 2022

I’ve lived in Santa Barbara and Summerland for nearly 50 years and while I love our community, the continued lack of transparency needs to end. The current gas station remodeling in Summerland is a microcosm of the darkness that shrouds many County-decisions. More importantly, it demonstrates how our 1,500-person community is being run: In the shadows!

In Summerland, we have a voluntary Homeowner Association (Summerland Citizen Association [SCA]) whose paid membership totals just $150. The SCA board and its informal Board of Architectural Review (BAR) take great pains in billing themselves as the voice of Summerland, yet as its Membership Chairperson, I can assure you they are not! We have learned the gas station remodel was early-on known to certain SCA board members and the BAR who, as we only recently discovered, approved the design/construction while keeping the project relatively secret (perhaps even to a couple of the board members). 

Dispiriting, but true. Only the SCA board (or at least part of it) along with a few select members knew of this very visible and extensive remodeling project, yet they never disclosed the project at their bylaw-required Annual Meeting, at a Special Meeting, in an Annual Report, or broadly circulated email. Nor did they share any meaningful details at their monthly meetings. They also never circulated Minutes (Minutes are required by the bylaws) of the BAR’s review throughout the more than year-long project-process. And, what about the BAR’s ultimate approval? No, that was never made broadly public either. Who are these people who think Summerland is their own personal fiefdom? Newsflash: Your decisions affect OUR quality of life, OUR community, and OUR homes – wake up!

Now, in fairness, while the Summerland BAR can “recommend” a project, said recommendation is advisory as only the County’s BAR (SBAR) can officially provide a greenlight. That said, they will look to the SCA when making their decision. So here we are in the throes of construction because in some smoke-filled room (there are many in Santa Barbara), a micro-fraction of our community “approved” the project. No, this is not right, even in our ever-opaque County.  

How were we kept in the dark? Unfortunately, when project approval is deemed discretionary, the County only notices through the Santa Barbara News-Press (huh?), and a few neighboring property owners. This gas station permit (in the Coastal Zone) was approved by County P&D “over the counter,” thus there was no lighting, noise, or traffic impact studies, nor the usual review for a project like this – all the more reason for community involvement! With regard to the SBAR hearings, this information was also supposedly known by the certain factions of the SCA “leadership,” but not broadly shared. Thanks!

Why do I care? Well, it’s not just the process that bothers: The chimney element on top of the building has now been replaced with a 24/7 lit-roof sign, visible from the 101N just prior to the Evans exit. Of course, roof signs are PROHIBITED by County Ordinance. So how, exactly, did this happen? Well, in the “approved” plans it is referred to as a “wall” sign, which it clearly is not. Did “our” SCA “leadership” catch this detail or, worse still, ignore it? This is precisely why the SCA needs involvement and expertise because, arrogance aside, the SCA is clearly incapable of seeing all the angles, much less playing them. Sorry!

In addition, the project has added a canopy above the pumps (there never used to be one), which is extremely tall and not at all in keeping with our town esthetic. Why so tall? Does it have to do with semi-truck accommodation to bring them off the freeway at all hours? And, how about the canopy’s lighting? Well get ready for 24/7 Vegas-west.  Now, besides the lit roof freeway sign, Summerland will be treated to eight 28.17 LEDs which is equivalent to about 2,200 regular watts (10:1, per the County Planner). Oh, yeah, the only plans that were ever made public by the SCA show a standard 13’ 6” canopy and no lighting or signage details. Oops!

One final thing: Should anyone need a bottle of booze at, say, 3 am then Summerland is your jam because in late September the license transfer was perfected continuing the allowance of 24/7 sales, this time with a freeway sign and lit canopy for all to see. This little tidbit was at least posted on the roadside development sign as – yet again – the SCA never made us aware we had a one-month comment period to discuss whether we wanted another 24/7 alcohol purveyor. So much for honest discussion! 

Our County needs a lot of things including transparency and ethics reform. Our town of Summerland apparently needs just as much help, so while I don’t question the good intentions of the SCA Board, BAR, etc., we obviously need a change so that this never happens again. In the end, the SCA worked more closely with an experienced gas station operator than they did with their own membership – this is the definition of conflict. Working on behalf of a community is a sacred trust and means INVOLVING the community. Therefore, while it gives me very little pleasure to say this – either the SCA board must go or the SCA must go.  

Pam Scott is a Summerland Resident and the SCA Membership Chair 


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